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Michel Longtin (1785-1873) and the Papineau Rebellion

Michel Longtin dit Jérôme (Jim’s 3 X great-grandfather) was born 14 November 1785 just south of Montreal at Laprairie, eldest son in a family of fifteen. At the age of 27, he married 19-year-old Marie-Archange Hunault, and they settled on a farm in St-Clément-de-Beauharnois parish, also south of Montreal and became parents of fourteen children, although five died in infancy or early childhood.

In the 1830s there was growing resentment among the French habitants against the English, who were becoming the majority. (By 1841, Montreal was 60% English-speaking.) There was widespread economic and cultural distress, and the agricultural crisis worsened due to lower production and prices. A leader emerged in the person of Louis-Joseph Papineau who in 1834 published a “manifesto of grievances and demands” which was rejected by the British government. A fighting force was formed (Fils de la Liberté) and fighting broke out in Montreal and surrounding areas in November 1837. The uprising was quickly suppressed but there were deaths and widespread looting and burning of French-Canadian settlements by the British volunteers. Papineau and other leaders fled to the United States to avoid arrest.

With the encouragement of American sympathizers, the rebels prepared for a second rebellion in 1838. The patriotes defeated a small British force at Beauharnois in early November, but were poorly organized and soon overcome by the British Volunteers. The rebels were imprisoned and ultimately 108 men were convicted of treason. Several courts-martial were held—usually for small groups of prisoners. At 53 years of age, Michel was arrested on November 16, 1838, and imprisoned; it is presumed that he would have remained in prison from that date until his trial three months later.

Michel’s court-martial was held in Montreal from February 7 – 21, 1839; he was one of ten prisoners tried at the same time. The transcript of the court-martial (conducted in English) is online [], and fascinating to read. It is somewhat difficult to determine exactly how each rebel participated, since the evidence submitted by the prosecution and defense often is contradictory. The “Court” (prosecution) consisted of fifteen members of the British military led by Major-General John Clitherow. The “Deputy Judge Advocate” (defense) was composed of three British lawyers. There was one translator for the French-speaking individuals. Twenty-one witnesses for the prosecution appeared, and the defense called on fifty-four individuals to testify.

It seems that, in anticipation of the fighting, the patriotes went door-to-door and demanded all guns be turned over; those who maintained their loyalty to the Sovereign (Queen Victoria) were forced to accompany the rebels and held in various locations. One of the prisoners (Francis Xavier Prévost) operated an inn/tavern and since it was a larger building, was used to hold many of these loyalists. The prosecution attempted to prove that he was a patriote (since his home was used), while he maintained it had been commandeered. One witness accused Michel Longtin of supplying provisions to these prisoners, another testified he had seen Michel in charge of holding prisoners at a nearby flour mill. Another testified that Michel was “armed with a pike” and giving orders to subordinates. He was also accused of having influence in getting some prisoners released, and having been at Beauharnois all week in command of armed men. Testifying in Michel’s defense were two of his children (16-year-old André, and 18-year-old Angèle), two brothers-in-law, and two neighbours. They testified that he had never “meddled in politics”, was at the mill but just to get his own flour ground and there were no armed men there, had not seen him armed during the week of the disturbances, had brought the meat and bread from his own home to the prisoners at the request of the local priest, and had spoken against the uprising His children testified that armed men had come to their house and forced Michel to accompany them, and that after he returned, he stayed mainly at home all week.

Each prisoner had the opportunity to address the Court; these were all read by an assistant, and would seem to have been prepared by the lawyers. The terminology is very much “legalese” and unlikely to be the verbatim testimony of each prisoner. Each is quite different in tone, and probably prepared in consultation with the individual, using typical Victorian flowery prose. Michel could not read or write (or speak English), and probably the same was true of several of the other prisoners.

Portions of Michel’s statement:

“I have already passed fifty-five [sic] years of my life. The greater portion of that time has been employed in a laborious struggle for a sure and honourable subsistence when old age and its infirmities should come upon me…. In peace and obscurity I pursued the path of industry, without suspicion or reproach, without imputation open or concealed, exempt alike from offence towards my neighbour, crime against the law or disaffection to my Sovereign…… when I had descended into the vale of years and became oppressed with infirmity, that I might repose undisturbed from my toil, and reap in peace the reward of my past labours. That period has arrived. I have nearly completed the full term of human life……”

His statement continues and comments upon each of the prosecution’s witnesses, and the contradicting testimony of the witnesses for the defense. He questions whether it is logical for the rebels to have selected him “almost helpless from infirmity” as a Captain of the Guard at such an eventful period, and begs the mercy of the Court. [It is interesting to note that he lived another 34 years.]

In any event, the Court acquitted two of the prisoners, and found the remaining eight guilty—including Michel. The eight guilty were sentenced “to be hanged by the neck until he be dead at such time and place as His Excellency the Lieutenant General, Governor in Chief, and Commander of the Forces, may appoint”. However, for three of these (including Michel), the Court recommended a “commutation of the sentence of death for a punishment less severe”.

When all the courts-martial had been completed, a total of 108 men has been convicted, 99 of whom were condemned to death. Only twelve were hanged, the others either transported to Australia, or (like Michel) allowed to remain in Quebec. The Court recommended that those exempted from transportation “should not be thrown back upon Society without some security for their future good conduct, or some penalty to mark their offenses”. It is not known if any such penalties were actually imposed. Most of those who were sent to Australia were eventually pardoned and allowed to return to Quebec.

Michel apparently returned to his farm and lived peacefully thereafter. The 1842 census indicates he is a farmer with nine persons in the family, owns 11 oxen, 6 horses, 19 sheep and 8 hogs; grows wheat, barley, oats, peas, Indian corn and potatoes, produces maple syrup, and in 1841 processed 50 pounds of wool into 30 yards of fulled cloth and 48 yards of flannel.

Marie-Archange died in 1857 at the age of 64, and two years later, at the age of 74, Michel remarried a local widow, Angélique (Lalonde) Degré, who was nineteen years his junior. Michel died in 1873 at the age of 88, and Angélique in 1884, aged 80.

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